Chris Kaminski of Pine Richland rides on the mountain bike trails at Butler County's Alameda Park. Photo by Sebastian Foltz.

At first glance, Alameda Park in Butler County looks like any other county park with its pool, shelters, grass fields, playground and dog park. So the SUV with $3,000 mountain bikes on a hitch rack might look out of place. But dip into the woods surrounding the park and you’ll see why it isn’t.  

At the edges of the cut grass fields and the paved roadway is a sneaky good network of mountain bike trails, increasingly on the radar of avid bikers but also a great option for beginners. 

“It offers a very different style of riding,” says Chris Kaminski of Pine Richland. “Something we don’t get around here.” 

That’s because Alameda Park is the only trail network in the greater Pittsburgh area that was designed specifically for mountain biking from day one, while still being a multiuse trail system. It’s also one of the newest trail networks in the area.

The Alameda bike trails are a joint effort between Butler County Parks and Recreation Department and Trail Pittsburgh, a volunteer-based organization that maintains and advocates for trails in a number of Allegheny County Parks, in addition to Alameda in Butler. 

The singletrack trail network opened in 2017 as part of a 2014 county parks master plan. It’s a prime example of progressive and grassroots recreation planning and a county embracing a once niche extreme sport. 

The park‘s success is a credit to the volunteers who build and maintain it, says Butler County Parks and Recreation Director Lance Welliver.  

“There’s a core group of guys that are there on a regular basis and make sure it’s maintained,” he says. “If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be here today.”

While there’s no shortage of biking trails in the Pittsburgh area, other mountain bike trail systems are based on older existing hiking routes or even deer trails — neither of which were originally intended for bikes. They may include steep slopes, curves or rocks and root systems that might be difficult to navigate on a bike, and especially intimidating for someone new to the sport. They also often feature a host of drainage and erosion problems.

Alameda, however, was designed from the ground up, with trails built more like those on a ski mountain. They were intended to better accommodate bikes with gradual climbs, banked turns and less technical rocky downhill paths, while also addressing erosion issues and drainage.

“We cut everything from scratch,” says Henry Dimmick, 62, a Butler area volunteer trail steward for Trail Pittsburgh, who has been a part of the project since the early planning phase. “We wanted to create an experience that was different from the other (parks).”

It was designed with an organized plan that caters to all ability levels.

“The idea when we start close to the park is that it’s easier for beginners and then the farther you get out, the more technical, more difficult we get,” he adds.

Unlike other mountain bike trails, you’re also never far from a road. The trail network wraps around a valley with roads and park facilities at the top and bottom. So if a biker has a mechanical issue or needs to stop, they are never far from an exit point. It also makes it possible to do any length of ride from short loops to multi-hour circuits.

Dave Dougherty and Chris Kaminski ride on the mountain bike trails at Butler County’s Alameda Park. Photo by Sebastian Foltz.

“For us, it’s a great destination,” says Welliver, “whether you’re a beginner or whether you’ve been riding for 30 years.” 

For Dave Dougherty, an avid mountain biker from Indiana Township, it’s worth the drive.

“It’s a change of pace, change of scenery, something different,” he says. “This has more of that groomed (well-maintained) trail. It’s fun, fast and flows well.”

That flow was intentional, says Dimmick. All the trails are machine built and professionally designed.

“We didn’t focus on being super technical, but instead emphasized a totally smooth trail with a flow to it,” he adds.

The plan for the park is to continue to expand from its roughly 15 miles of linked trail loops to 20 miles within the 400-acre park. Dimmick adds that since 2017, the park has logged more than 6,200 volunteer hours working on the trail with an estimated $160,000 invested in the trails to date. They plan to add a new section of trail every year.

Those seeking more advanced, technical mountain biking can try nearby Moraine State Park which has its own network of trails on the North Shore side of Lake Arthur. 

Dave Dougherty of Pittsburgh rides on the mountain bike trails at Butler County’s Alameda Park. Started in 2014 with a parks master plan, the trail network now includes 15 miles of singletrack geared toward biking. Photo by Sebastian Foltz.

Know before you go

While the 15-mile trail system is easy to navigate. It’s a good idea to check out the map first, available on the Trail Pittsburgh website

And if you find you forgot some gear or need a quick fix there’s a new bike shop, Gear Bicycle Sales, in the shopping plaza right outside the park.

Alameda Park is located just outside the city of Butler and close to both Route 8 and Highway 422, or from Evans City via Evans City Road/Route 68. It’s about an hour’s drive from Downtown Pittsburgh.  

After your ride, Butler’s historic Main Street is worth a stop. It’s seen a renaissance in recent years with some independent shops and restaurants. The Chop Shop is a local favorite as is the microbrewery Butler Brew Works

There’s also no shortage of other breweries in and around Butler. The county now boasts around 15. Depending on where you’re coming from, Recon Brewing and Missing Links Brewery are also right outside of town. Stick City Brewing Company off Route 228 in Mars is another option. North Country Brewing out of Slippery Rock, the county’s original microbrewery, also recently opened a satellite location south of Butler on Route 8, in partnership with the Freedom Farms Farmers Market and Kitchen. North Country also operates the Harmony Inn outside of Zelienople.    

This story is part of the new Outdoor Guide series for NEXTpittsburgh focusing on outdoor recreation within a roughly three-hour drive from Pittsburgh.

Sebastian Foltz is a Pittsburgh-based freelance photographer and writer with contributions to newspapers and magazines in Pittsburgh, Oregon and Colorado. An avid whitewater kayaker, mountain biker and skier, Sebastian has a background in news, sports and outdoor journalism.